Covid-19 cases have hit 5.4 million today, with 340,000 deaths. Yes, the number of those who have recovered is much higher at two million, but even one death is reason enough to mourn. People are not simply numbers, even in death. They were somebody’s family, loved one, and friend. And I can’t understand the nonchalance of government leaders when they try to joke or speak lightly of the pandemic that has placed the world in the greatest disruption that many of us couldn’t have imagined possible.
The crisis has highlighted the existing ills of the society, the evils of unbridled capitalism, and the corruption and ineptitude of leaders the people elected to serve, who instead used their privilege to shield themselves in every possible way, while fumbling on much-needed action that would protect the larger population.
The greatest tragedy, however, could be the collective impatience to return to "normal", to bring back the economy to a full-throttle, and again have the "right to have hair done in a salon". I shudder at the thought of the throngs of people who went to the malls on the first day that restrictions in Manila were eased, and the gall of my government to disown the responsibility for mass-testing. The pandemic, which gave humanity several months worth of room to pause and reflect on life as we know it, might have been an opportunity missed. It could have provided leaders a platform to look at the various societal ills and rethink the pandemic as a portal to reimagine a post-pandemic world.
Could little changes here and there be enough to bring our civilization forward, and not back to what was perceived as normal, which was simply a normalization of broken systems that do not respond to the real and felt needs of people and the planet? Are the much talked about post-pandemic new normals just band-aids to the cancers of society, or truly meaningful systemic and structural changes that bring about change beyond the Sustainable Development Goals, which were imagined in a pre-Covid world?
I’ve been doing my own deep dive while in quarantine. While my major preoccupation was my personal circumstance, it also gave me a chance to reflect on the post-pandemic world that I want, in the frame of the current climate crisis and the societal inequities that many of us have become blind to. As a cultural creative I have a fairly good idea of how I want the world to look. As a foresight practitioner, I believe that it is important to set the vision and intention first, so as not to be paralyzed by the "how". I’m not so deluded as to think that a few months would miraculously transform every aspect of our collective life. What is needed is the intention to start. And taking the cue from a famous energy healer, my question is: what would it take to have a renewed vision of the world and make it the cliche that we all love -- a better place?
So how do I want the world to look? Here is a round-up of ideas that I would love to see in the world in the future. Some of these are being done in some places on a smaller scale. This is not comprehensive nor definitive but gives a fairly good picture of the transformed society that I desire.
Enlightened Economy. I think a universal basic income is one of the ways by which governments could ensure the welfare of their citizens, especially in and after a pandemic. UBI should be a minimum standard to be implemented globally. In terms of salaries, instead of a minimum wage, a living wage should be the goal. Concentration of wealth in the 1% -- with the likes of Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg -- indicates the need for a maximum wage and workable wealth tax. There is just no way to justify the very few amassing most of the world’s wealth. Scroll to the left in this link to see how scandalous wealth inequality is. Basic utilities like electricity, water, and internet should be nationalized and not run for profit. Cooperatives must be encouraged and supported. There must be a focus on green infrastructure and circular economy. People, planet, purpose, and profit -- and yes, profit should be the last consideration in the quadruple bottomline of businesses. If this is the standard, then businesses like cigarette manufacturing and slaughterhouses will not only decline but eventually fold up. The economy is actually one of the best ways to address some of the greatest challenges humanity is facing, such as climate change and widespread inequity.
Holistic Wellness. We don’t live to work, so it does not make sense for work to take so much of one’s day. I would love to see the working population on a four-day workweek and six-hour workday. Heck, I really want a three-day work week and a four-hour workday, but I would take the first arrangement in a heartbeat compared to the current practice. This will curb unemployment and provide time for study, self-improvement, recreation, and much needed rest in a stressful world. Universal health coverage must be a priority because health is a human right, not a privilege. Prevention, rather than cure should be the focus of health agencies. There must be a way to police big pharma cashing in on people’s misery. Health agencies must find a way to build up immunity rather than promote immunization. Holistic health including physical, psychological, and social health must be given attention. Governments must promote veganism. Anything less is counterproductive to people’s health and wellness.
Empowering Education. If we recognize education as a human right, it makes sense for it to be free. Not just at the primary levels, but universal free education at all levels. What could ensure more long-term social equality better than this? Educational systems need a thorough shakeup. The industrial model and one-size-fits-all just doesn’t work anymore. Education should be the bastion of creative approaches and systems, geared towards not just learning per se, but developing a thirst for learning, a way for students to think for themselves, solve problems and create, instead of rote learning. Curriculum must integrate empathy, not just for their peers but also for animals and the environment. Happiness, foresight, real world skills, and holistic development, rather than honors and individual accomplishment. There should be cooperation, instead of competition in classrooms, and students must be trained to work beyond their previous performance rather than against their classmates. An alignment of head, heart, and hands should be the true focus of education.
Environmental Empathy. I’m looking forward to the day when humanity sees Mother Earth as a living entity, worthy of care and respect, when we actually feel for her and work to alleviate her suffering. Collective care for the commons should be the goal. Animals should be treated as persons and as the sentient beings that they are, not as food or resource for clothing and other products. I’d love to see a massive shift from industrial farming to smaller, more earth-friendly systems such as veganic farming. What is often considered as everyday activism for the environment should be considered the norm. Is zero waste possible? I believe that it is. But while the world is not even trying to understand this age-old concept, I believe that we could still thrive on five to ten percent residuals. I hope my environmentalist friends don’t consider me a sell-out for even proposing this. But I think that as soon as we are achieving greatly reduced residuals, we are also gaining momentum for a zero waste world.
Transformative Technology. Technology must be developed and used for the greater purpose of serving humanity, Mother Earth, and all her creations. There should be a four way test for developing, deploying, and scaling technology (remind me to develop one later!). Many people thought that the internet would level the field and provide opportunities for the marginalized. While this has definitely been happening, it's not happening at the scale of impact. Poor people are still the last to access technology and information and benefit less from them. This must change.
Global Community. I’ve never been one for divisive ideas such as religions, nationalities, and a host of discord-causing isms. Although I am grateful for having been born a Filipina, I do consider myself a global citizen. One of my most fervent wishes for humanity is the eradication of war. As Sting says, "There’s no such thing as a winnable war." I should not have to explain this to anyone. We are all in this together. Everyone matters. Nobody should be shunned in the margins for being different. I dream of a world where inclusivity is not just a slogan but an actual practice. Respect is for everyone: to people of all colors, sexual orientation and gender identity, differently-abled, women, children and the elderly, the man on the street and august halls alike. The most powerful platform for building the global community is the worldwide web. Thus, learning and practicing digital citizenship is a must if we are to coexist harmoniously in the virtual world. And yes, I’d like to see a borderless world through visa-less travel. Impossible? Nobody thought man could land on the moon just 50 years ago.
John Lennon sang, "You might say I’m a dreamer". Yes, I am. Dreams of a better world are what move me. These visions might seem nothing short of Utopia, but remember there was a time when slavery was acceptable and legal, when women couldn’t vote, when the idea of flying was an impossibility, and when talking to people from halfway around the world was simply preposterous. But dreams made all of these a reality. We can still dream. Now is the time. After several weeks of quarantine, we should already have a sense of what truly matters. We have to tell ourselves to change and do better, because we really can.
How about you? Would you go for resume or reset? What is the world that you are envisioning after this crisis?
This blog was first posted on Shiela's personal blog on 25 May, 2020, and is reposted with permission. Find out more about Shiela's work in the Philippines and beyond in her bio page. A seasoned social development professional, she is also a trained Climate Presenter with the Climate Reality Project, founder of Vision: Vegan World, Futures Learning Advisor for the Center for Engaged Foresight, and an Associate with United Edge. #src